May 18, 2020

Protect Your Mental Health Search Engine Data

How to stop advertisers and big tech companies from collecting your mental health data.

“Is my husband depressed?”

“What are the stages of grief?”

“Where can I get mental health help?”

“What are common anti-anxiety medication side effects?”

These are only a few of the questions family members, co-workers, and neighbors may be searching online for answers. These are deeply personal questions that are only shared with one’s confidants and mental health providers.

Unfortunately, Big Tech and advertisers are using your internet search history and personal data to exploit these personal details. And with COVID-19 demanding a need to scale telehealth, there’s an ever-increasing amount of mental health data available for Big Tech and advertisers to exploit.

COVID-19’s Impact on Mental Health

Before COVID-19, more than 264 million people were affected by depression. (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders) In these unprecedented times, the number is likely to be much higher.

If you’re feeling the effects of COVID-19 on your mental health, you’re not alone. People around the world, whether they have or haven’t experienced depression, anxiety, or grief before the pandemic, are struggling with learning how to cope under these new circumstances.

“The COVID-19 virus is not only attacking our physical health; it is also increasing psychological suffering. Grief at the loss of loved ones, shock at the loss of jobs, isolation and restrictions on movement, difficult family dynamics, uncertainty and fear for the future,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in a video message emphasizing the need for action on mental health. (https://www.un.org/sg/en)

Not surprisingly, Google Trends shows there has also been a spike in the number of people searching for “mental health help.”

How Is Your Mental Health Search Engine Data Being Used

With individuals from all over the globe experiencing mental health issues, many are looking for support online by searching symptoms or for advice via a search engine. A major concern, however, is how big tech is using your mental health search engine data. Every time you search on a non-private search engine, you’re handing over your personal data to Big Data.

Earlier this year, we reviewed how non-private search engines collect your search history and online activity, build a digital profile on you, and share your digital profile with advertisers. This means if you’ve been looking up breathing exercises for anxiety or therapists in your area, advertisers can target you based on this information. These ads can also follow you around as you browse the web and when you switch to another device.

And! Your search engine can filter your results, keeping you in a filter bubble. If you search for grief tips, your search engine can keep giving you similar content and reminding you of your lost ones.

To read more on how your non-private search engine could be making you feel sick, visit: https://www.startpage.com/blog/privacy-awareness/searching-about-health-can-make-you-feel-sick

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Safeguard Your Mental Health Data

Sometimes you may also need to protect your mental health data from the people around you: family members, friends, and your employer.

If you’re sharing a computer with your family or roommates, you may not feel comfortable with disclosing that you’re feeling depressed or anxious. Your partner may be in-the-know, but you may not be ready to disclose your mental state to your children.

For individuals in domestic violence situations, you may want to seek help but not leave a trace. As for LGBTQ folks, there is safety in being able to find support and resources specific to your community without outing yourself to family nor Big Tech.

You should have the comfort of knowing your health data is protected. Here are some tips for keeping mental health data private:

If you have additional tips for protecting your mental health data, share them with us on social media.

If you, a family member, or friend is experiencing a medical concern, speak with a medical professional, call 911, or go to a hospital emergency room.

Resources:

World Health Organization – Mental health & COVID-19
https://www.who.int/teams/mental-health-and-substance-use/covid-19

Searching about your health can make you feel sick
https://www.startpage.com/blog/privacy-awareness/searching-about-health-can-make-you-feel-sick

Is Your Boss Monitoring Your Online Activity?
https://www.startpage.com/blog/privacy-awareness/is-your-boss-monitoring-your-online-activity

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